Understanding Voter Apathy in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe is fresh from elections conducted on 26 March 2022. 28 House of Assembly seats and 122 local government vacancies were up for grabs in long awaited by elections which had been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. A voter turnout of 35% was recorded. The period January to March 2022, was characterized by interesting events and processes typical and atypical of by elections previously in Zimbabwe. First, the elections were to be the first to be conducted under COVID-19 regulations and restrictions. Second, having been a largely a result of recalls within the Movement for Democratic Change- Alliance, the by elections offered the first chance for voters to have a say in matter. Third, they were characterized by huge turnouts at rallies of the new Citizen Coalition for Change (CCC) and Zimbabwe African National Union- Patriotic Front (ZANU PF). Lastly, the elections came on 26 March and left mixed feelings vis-a-vis the results, the voter turnout, the administration of the elections by ZEC and what this meant going forward and looking at 2023. These brief analyses these with a particular focus on voter turnout. To read full paper, scroll on.

Voter apathy refers to individuals not voting in elections because they feel like their participation will not make a difference. Crewe et al (1992) distinguish between voter apathy and voter alienation as the basis of low political motivation. Apathy denotes a lack of feeling of personal responsibility, a passivity and indifference for political affairs. Subsequently, it denotes the absence of a feeling of personal obligation to participate.Voter alienation,on the other hand,denotes an active rejection of the political system and thus,political participation is negative towards the political world.

Ioannis Kolovos and Phil Harris (2002) argue that there are three schools of thought explaining voter turnout (Pattie and Johnston 1998, Bartle 2002): a) theories of rational choice, b) sociological theories and c) theories of political efficacy. Theories of rational choice argue that voters weigh up the costs and benefits of their actions. Thus, they will turn up to vote when they consider that the benefits of such an action outweigh the costs. Sociological theories argue that socio-economic characteristics affect political behaviour,identification with a party’s values and people’s propensity to vote.

In Zimbabwe turnout is higher among: i) those with lower income, ii) those of lower education, iii) blue-collar workers, iv) men, v) middle-aged and older voters, vii) those with closer community ties, viii) rural voters and ix) members of organizations.Social factors may influence turnout by limiting the access of voters to political information and may affect their party identification. Political efficacy theories argue that people alienated from the political process are less likely to vote. Alienated voters feel that their vote will not make any difference,that politics has little influence in their lives and that the main parties do not address their concerns.

There have been episodes of voter apathy in Zimbabwe elections since 1980. 1996 (31.7%), 2005 (47%) and 2008 (42.7%) are typically low voter turnout years in Zimbabwe election history.However,given that Zimbabwe has conducted nine (9) general elections since independence,it might be said that Zimbabwe is not a generally apathetic country when it comes to elections. By elections,however,have almost always been characterized by average to low voter turnout because the political stakes are considered to be low.The recent by elections were no exception despite the hype surrounding them for several reasons including the entrance of a new CCC party,the fact that they were a referendum on who is the most popular opposition party, the number of by-elections conducted on the same (so many wards and constituencies were up for grabs at the same time) due to COVID-19 setbacks and the attendance of the rallies prior to March 26.

Read the full report here (1MB PDF)

Source: CIASA

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